Thursday, March 24, 2011

Army + Air Force = Victory

(P-47 Thunderbolt, France, 1944 - the beginning of Air-Land Integration)

I think - and I'm sure that someone will correct me - that it was Gen. Omar Bradley who is credited with coining the phrase "Army plus Air Force* equals Victory" following the breakout from Normandy and the critical battle of Falaise Gap. This became the basis of western land doctrine at all points since then, with increasing success coming from a combination of improved communications and situational awareness, together with much more accurate air-to-ground weaponry. Thus doctrine evolved through the post-Vietnam US "Air Land Battle" doctrine - rolled out to general astonishment in Operation DESERT STORM - through to today's Air Land Integration (ALI) in Afghanistan.

But whilst this is working increasingly well in Afghanistan, it is a real challenge in Libya: fundamentally, can the anti-Gaddafi forces who are poorly equipped, and though unquestionably brave, poorly trained defeat the Libyan Army simply because of allied air power?

It's an open question. The key in ALI is integration - making sure that what you're targeting is not only the opposition, but that the targets you are hitting are being hit in the most efficient order to maximise the impact on the ground. This may mean therefore that you're hitting the tanks that you can see ahead of you on the battlefield - a tactical imperative - but that the most effective could be an attack on supply nodes, particularly on fuel, ammunition - what Colin Powell referred to in his "armchair generals worry about strategy, real generals worry about logistics" epithet in Gulf War I. It was also the basis for the 1944 "Transport Plan" in which the USAAF / RAF heavy bombers were diverted to resupply nodes in France, in order to support the ground troops by starving the German forces of supplies.

(The brilliant horseshoe. When effective, the UNSC remains our best hope for international peace and security.)

This demands a level of abstraction from the target that is harder to square with UNSCR 1973. Harder, but not impossible - OP 4 states that the mission is "to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" - in other words, if you can expansively interpret "threat" then a broad scale targeting plan becomes possible.

Ultimately, this broader approach is probably what will be needed if we are to avoid either stalemate in Libya, or worse, a Gaddafi victory. My hunch - and it's no more than this - is that if we can demonstrate to the line Gaddafi army units that they can defect to the rebels and live, or get destroyed in detail by allied air power, then we're several steps forward.

*Yes, I know that in 1944, the US Air Force was still part of the US Army as the US Army Air Corps.

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